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El Paso vaccinating senior citizens more slowly than some other Texas counties

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El Paso leads Texas urban counties in getting people vaccinated against COVID-19, but it is lagging some of those counties when it comes to vaccinating one of the groups most vulnerable to complications and death from the novel coronavirus — people 65 and older.

Getting vaccines to the most vulnerable population is critical because community spread of COVID-19 is still relatively high, though down significantly from our fall peak. El Paso remains vulnerable to another infection surge.

Here’s our weekly COVID-19 data report.

Vaccines

El Paso has been more efficient than other large Texas counties in getting vaccines in the arms of residents. But one of the questions we’ve asked repeatedly is whether El Paso is sacrificing equity — getting vaccines to those who need them the most — for efficiency.

Our quest to address that question has been hampered by the refusal of El Paso’s two main vaccine providers — the city government and University Medical Center — to give the public the demographic data on who has been vaccinated.

Fortunately, the state of Texas has been far more transparent than our local governments in providing demographic data. Molly Smith reported last week that Black El Pasoans and men are being vaccinated at rates far below their population proportion.

Today, I will look at how well El Paso is doing in vaccinating the population 65 and older. Seniors are at significantly higher risk of requiring hospitalization or dying if they are infected with COVID-19. People over 65 account for eight of every 10 COVID-19 deaths nationally. 

El Paso continues to lead the 10 most populous counties in Texas in vaccinating people 16 and older. As of Friday, more than 118,000 El Pasoans have received at least one vaccine dose, and almost 68,000 have received both doses. El Paso is the first large county in Texas to fully vaccinate at least 10% of its population 16 and older. (It’s worth noting that the recent winter storm was far more disruptive to vaccine distributions in the rest of Texas than in El Paso.)

But some other counties are doing a better job of vaccinating the population 65 and older.

It’s been 11 weeks since the vaccine became available in El Paso County. In that time, only one in five senior citizens have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Two in five have received at least one vaccine dose.

El Paso County has largely relied on online registration systems to set vaccine appointments. Both the city and UMC rely heavily on social media to get the word out on vaccine registrations.

The Texas counties that have vaccinated higher proportions of people 65 and older use similar approaches to registration. But those counties all have significantly higher levels of income, educational attainment and household broadband penetration than El Paso.

In Fort Bend County, which has the highest vaccination rate of seniors among large Texas counties, 97% of homes have computers and 93% have broadband service. In El Paso, 88% of homes have computers and 79% have broadband service. 

El Paso’s vaccination process is a classic example of a digital divide. People who have access to computers and broadband are far more likely than those without to be able to register for vaccines.

Put simply, it is more challenging to reach seniors in El Paso than in many other counties. Health officials will need to develop additional steps to reach the 65-plus population and get them vaccinated.

City and county leaders announced on Friday that they would merge the two main vaccine registration systems in coming weeks. This is another step toward efficiency, but doesn’t necessarily address equity. 

This coming week, El Paso is receiving its highest number of first vaccine doses to date. 

New cases

New COVID-19 cases inched back up this past week after hitting a 20-week low the prior week.

Nationwide, we’re seeing what health officials are calling a stall in the decline of COVID-19 cases. Top federal health officials are urging states to avoid the temptation of lifting mandatory safety measures. 

Hospital usage

The number of people with COVID-19 who require treatment in hospitals or intensive care units has fallen to its lowest level since mid-October. That tracks with the general decline in new cases we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Deaths

The number of people dying of COVID-19 continues to slowly decline. But we continue to lose an El Pasoan to COVID-19 every five  hours on average.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 2,476 El Pasoans have died of COVID-19 as of Feb. 20.

Cover photo: A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the city’s site at the Don Haskins Recreation Center in West El Paso. (Photo courtesy of the city of El Paso)

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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